A major rail transportation center planned for Rocky Mount is now in doubt, due to a reassessment the company is doing of its traditional hub-and-spoke strategy.
The $272 million CSX railroad project was announced in July 2016. It was originally going to be in Johnston County, but opposition from landowners and an attractive proposal assembled by Rocky Mount economic development officials lured it away. CSX was to receive $122 million in state financial incentives.
On Thursday, the trade publication Trains quoted unnamed sources saying the company had decided not to build in Rocky Mount due to a companywide strategic shift.
A CSX spokesman responded with a statement confirming the reassessment but not specifically addressing the fate of the Rocky Mount plan.
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“In an effort to enhance CSX’s operating performance, provide a superior service product for our customers and create lasting value for shareholders, CSX’s new leadership team is conducting a comprehensive and strategic review of all existing and planned infrastructure projects,” Christopher Smith said in the statement. “Intermodal will remain an important part of CSX’s business.
“Any changes to existing service or to proposed plans will be discussed directly with CSX customers and relevant stakeholders. CSX appreciates the partnership we have developed with the State of North Carolina and we look forward to continuing the dialogue with the State about the Carolina Connector (CCX) and our plans moving forward.”
Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement saying, “We understand CSX is moving to a new business model, and that it may ultimately result in a different plan for Rocky Mount,” he said. “I believe in Eastern North Carolina and will keep working to show CSX that Rocky Mount is the right place for them.”
The regional hub, called the Carolina Connector, is expected to route freight from trucks and trains for final destinations along the East Cost. It was expected to bring 149 jobs to the Rocky Mount area. At the time it was announced, then-Gov. Pat McCrory called it a “game-changer” for the state’s economy.
Oppie Jordan, vice president of Carolinas Gateway Partnership, an economic development group in Edgecombe County, on Friday said she had not heard anything definitive about the railroad’s plans.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield issued a statement saying he was disappointed.
“CSX promised the hub would bring an estimated 1,500 jobs throughout the state and connect eastern North Carolina to the ports,” he said. “This project would have wide-ranging benefits, not only in Rocky Mount but throughout the state and region. I truly hope the reports are not true and that CSX sees the value this investment would bring to the company, our community, and state.”
Construction was to begin early next year and continue until the end of 2018.